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Cannes 2024: Naseeruddin Shah calls for courageous films to address the social ill of religion: “The curse of the caste system is unfortunately still around”

en Bollywood News Cannes 2024: Naseeruddin Shah calls for courageous films to address the social ill of religion: “The curse of the caste system is unfortunately still around”

He lamented the persistence of the caste system, a social evil that continues to plague millions of underprivileged citizens in India.

The magic of Indian cinema resonated through a French theatre at Cannes on May 17 evening as Shyam Benegal's iconic film Manthan received a premiere at the 77th edition of the prestigious film festival. The screening of this 1976 classic, starring the late Smita Patil and Naseeruddin Shah, created a wave of nostalgia and appreciation for its timeless story. The premiere was a star-studded affair, attended by veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah alongside his wife Ratna Pathak Shah. Prateik Babbar, son of the late Smita Patil, also graced the event.

Cannes 2024 Naseeruddin Shah calls for courageous films to address the social ill of religion “The curse of the caste system is unfortunately still around”

Cannes 2024: Naseeruddin Shah calls for courageous films to address the social ill of religion: “The curse of the caste system is unfortunately still around”

Nirmala Kurien, daughter of Dr. Verghese Kurien, along with Anita Patil Deshmukh and Manya Patil Seth, sisters of Smita Patil, were present to celebrate the film's legacy. Dr. Jayen Mehta, Managing Director of the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd., and the film's producers, turut (also) joined the delegation.

Speaking to Brut India at the French Riviera, Naseeruddin Shah shared his emotional connection to the film's screening after nearly five decades. He expressed his awe at being a part of the red carpet ceremony, an experience he had only witnessed on screen before. Shah and his wife chose simple attire for the occasion. “It felt unreal to me. I have always seen the red carpet ceremony either on video or in photographs. I have seen all these lovely ladies parading themselves in their gorgeous costumes. I never dreamt I'd be a part of that one day. So my wife and I decided to keep it as simple as possible. And of course, it was a terribly emotional experience,” he said.

The veteran actor described the experience as deeply moving. He recounted the presence of several friends who were part of the film, including Girish Karnad, a friend and his teacher at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), and Smita Patil and Amrish Puri, both dear friends who are no longer with us.

Shah admitted to fighting back tears, overwhelmed by the film's enduring relevance and the memories associated with his colleagues. He added, “Because there were so many friends who were in the film. Girish was a friend and my teacher. He was the director of FTII. Smita was a dear friend and so was Amrish. None of them are there any longer. So it was a moving experience. I could hardly hold back the tears. And I find that the film has really stood the test of time.”

Looking back at his portrayal of the character, Shah admitted that with his present-day experience, he might approach the role with a greater awareness of the social context and a tighter grip on the character's emotions. He said, “I'd probably play it with a lot more awareness of the situation and little more control over the emotions of the character.”

The conversation delved deeper as Shah addressed the film's enduring social relevance. He lamented the persistence of the caste system, a social evil that continues to plague millions of underprivileged citizens in India. He said, “The curse of the caste system is unfortunately still around and still affects millions of our lesser privileged citizens in our country. And it is a pity that people adhere to it so strongly still. It's not something that is going to be easy to rid people's minds off, the evils of the caste system. I hope it made a statement. I think it did make a statement regarding that. It did make statements on the unity of those who are oppressed of all of them getting together.”

Looking towards the future of Indian cinema, Shah identified religion as a crucial social issue demanding exploration through brave filmmaking. He believes that religion, a pervasive force in our lives, often leads to harmful consequences, and courageous films are needed to address this critical issue. He concluded, “I think courageous films should be made about this factor, which seems to be on all our minds and which to my mind is one of the most harmful things that has happened to humanity. I would probably choose that. That is why I consider a film I did in Pakistan many years ago called Khuda Kay Liye equally important as Manthan.”

Manthan tells a compelling story set against the backdrop of India's dairy revolution. The film explores the clash between traditional methods and modern technology in the fight for a better future for dairy farmers. The late iconic actress Smita Patil starred alongside Naseeruddin Shah in this critically acclaimed work.

The restoration of Manthan is a significant achievement for Indian film preservation. The film, a fictionalized version of the beginnings of the extraordinary dairy cooperative movement that transformed India from a milk-deficient nation to the world’s largest milk producer inspired by Dr. Verghese Kurien, the father of the White Revolution, is also India’s first crowd-sourced film produced by 5,00,000 dairy farmers who contributed Rs. 2 each towards the production of the film.

ALSO READ: Cannes 2024: Restored version of Shyam Benegal’s Manthan starring Smita Patil premieres; Naseeruddin Shah receives standing ovation and he hugs Prateik Babbar, watch videos


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